Bar Harbor’s No-Idling Ordinance Explained


APR 26, 2023

BAR HARBOR—In multiple town meetings and in commentary to the Mount Desert Islander, the town’s idling ordinance has been mentioned recently. At one town meeting, committee members brought up busses idling during pick-up time at Conners-Emerson. Others have mentioned cruise ship tenders idling as passengers embark and disembark as a potential violation of the ordinance.

According to Bar Harbor School Resources Officer and Patrol Officer Tim Bland, the town’s ordinance does not exempt school busses. He has also talked to Conners-Emerson Principal Heather Webster about the ordinance, which is from May 1 to Indigenous People’s Day. That would allow the busses to idle and stay warm over the winter months.

However, the idling ordinance only covers the downtown area. The school is located not in a downtown zoning area, but in the village residential zone.

That district is defined in the Land Use Ordinance as “the Village Residential District encompasses the well-established residential neighborhoods that surround the traditional downtown area of Bar Harbor.” This creates a separation of the district from the downtown area.

The question becomes, if busses idle at Conners-Emerson between May and Indigenous People’s Day, would they be breaking the ordinance if the ordinance specifies “downtown areas.”

The ordinance reads:

When it comes to boats, the ordinance seems to have even less teeth.

Town documents about the ordinances define idling as:

Then the definition of a vehicle is defined as: 

The State of Maine’s definition for a vehicle specifies “on a way.”

The town’s definition for vehicle specifies “upon a highway.”

According to Bland, when he reads the ordinance and town definitions, it precludes anything happening on the water because the water is not a public way. To control the idling of boats when docking to unload or load passengers or equipment, he said, the town would likely have to create a harbor-specific ordinance, which he said would likely be difficult to enforce.

Maine has specific idling rules for commercial vehicles. While magazines like Good Housekeeping say that it’s illegal in Maine for anyone to idle a motor vehicle, Maine law states,

The Bar Harbor ordinance stipulates violations and penalties for many different civil violations, but idling is not including penalties, in that section.

Idling a gas-powered engine causes it to burn fuel. That process sends out emissions of CO2.  According to the CBC,

“Natural Resources Canada says if most Canadian drivers limited idling to three minutes a day, over the course of a year, 1.4 million fewer tonnes of CO2 emissions would go into the atmosphere.

“It would save money, too. For every 10 minutes of idling, the average three-litre engine vehicle loses more than a cup (330 millilitres) of fuel, according to NRCan. 

“It’s even worse with diesel buses. Research done at the University of Waterloo in Ontario found a diesel bus loses four to eight litres of fuel every day to idling — or up to 2,000 litres per year. Amir Khajepour, the mechanical engineering professor behind the research, said that’s the equivalent of 10,000 kilograms of greenhouse gases per bus per year.”

Greenhouse gases like CO2 (a colorless, odorless gas with very small molecules) sucks in energy at a certain wavelength, which overlaps the wavelength of infrared energy.

According to Columbia University,

“As CO2 soaks up this infrared energy, it vibrates and re-emits the infrared energy back in all directions. About half of that energy goes out into space, and about half of it returns to Earth as heat, contributing to the ‘greenhouse effect.’”

For human health, CO2 acts as an asphyxiant at certain concentrations, but it’s also a natural and important part of our atmosphere. It’s when the levels of it increase that things become problematic. It can dull thinking and cognitive function, cause headaches and fatigue, a loss of consciousness or death.


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  1. I am very disappointed to read this cruise ship propaganda. It is shameless epistemic insouciance. Why have you chosen to downplay death by being forced to breathe shipping diesel, Sulfuric Acid (battery acid) on legal technicalities. What is your objective? It can’t be the health and welfare of this community. Is it the 20.2 M delusion? Are you one of these people who thinks 1.17 in net profit per passenger is worth dying for?
    Why are you defending poison?
    Jim O’Connell


    • Hi, Jim!

      I’m so sorry that you think that.

      This is an article specifically about what the ordinance as currently written in Bar Harbor does and doesn’t do according to the town’s definitions and Officer Bland.

      The goal of the Bar Harbor Story is simply to convey information and situations (current and past) to readers who want to look into it.

      I appreciate your comment and your passion. Always.

      I have been gathering specific information about the different types of emissions for a future article. If you have any links that you’d like me to look into, please let me know.



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